Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Unless this Revolution Succeeds

Last night Reinette and I marched with the Occupy Wall Street contingent in the Greenwich Village Halloween party, supposedly the largest Halloween parade in the country.  It was quite an adventure. 

OWS participants had elaborate costumes, with whole sections themed as zombie bankers, corporate vampires, superheroes saving the day from budget axes, Marie Antoinette and her musical courtiers,  marshmallows (“because we are 99% sugar”), and other groups. Reinette and I were in the section of people wearing the ubiquitous Guy Fawkes masks made popular by “Anonymous,” the group that originally issued the call to occupy Wall Street.  In addition to all the colorful costumes, there were huge signs and banners, flags, musicians, and giant puppets designed to express our concerns through art and celebration.  (These videos don't show the 20 or so giant puppets  or capture the whole event, but they can give you a taste of what it was like:  www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/NYC-Halloween-Parade-Village-Occupy-Wall-Street-132972723.html and www.youtube.com/watch?v=94CY5cGDya4&feature=player_embedded.

It reminds me of the words on my Art and Revolution T-shirt:  “The goal of the revolutionary artist is to make revolution irresistible.”  Not just on Halloween, but every day.

Earlier in the day, we attended a special meeting of the OWS community to address security concerns in Zucotti Park.  The meeting was held on the steps on the west side of the park, where there has been trouble.  Using the peoples' mic, the Peace and Security working groups outlined ways that the OWS Good Neighbor Policy” was being violated.  (see it at www.nycga.net/resources/good-neighbor-policy).  Drug and alcohol use, off-the-wall behavior, aggression, and even violence has increased in the past few days, especially at night.  It also seems that some police officers have directed troubled indigent people to come to Zucotti Park.  The best article I have seen about these issues is at:  www.nydailynews.com/opinion/occupy-wall-street-central-a-rift-growing-east-west-sides-plaza-article-1.969320?localLinksEnabled=fals.e

The facilitators proposed that we brainstorm about how to respond to disruptive, harmful, and/or violent behavior when it occurs.  In small groups we came up with a lot of ideas, including having more lights at night, inviting people from the community to help with Night Watch,  passing out self-defense flyers, feeding people through the working groups rather than providing food to all, call the police, get restraining orders, etc. etc.  The key question was how the community might eject people who cause disruption or harm. 

The experiment taking place at Zucotti Park is vulnerable, not just to the coming cold weather, but to the challenges of our violent and dysfunctional society, magnified by the difficult conditions and the number and variety of people drawn to this occupation.  The problems the protestors face is a reflection of our society and of the very economic problems they are protesting.   We are all affected by the increasing numbers of homeless, hungry, mentally ill, and desperate people, and such people remind us of how vulnerable we and our loved ones are.  In the words of Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickeled and Dimed, “Homelessness is not a side issue unconnected to plutocracy and greed. It's where we're all eventually headed—the 99 percent, or at least the 70 percent, of us, every debt-loaded college grad, out-of-work school teacher, and impoverished senior—unless this revolution succeeds.”  (Read the article at http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/homelessness-occupy-wall-street.) 

As for smaller-scale disruptions, I've had fun watching creative tactics of de-escalation.  When singing with a group of musicians, a man came up loudly saying, “Sing for Jesus, sing for Jesus.”  The energy shifted and people became uncomfortable as he insisted, pushed, and sought to dominate the direction of the music.  “Sing halleluia,” he shouted.   Finally one musician began singing an old spiritual, bluegrass-style, “Oh glory, how happy I am... glory halleluia!”  All the musicians started playing, it was all in fun, and the jam session was back on track.  A simple creative choice to go with the energy, rather than against it.  Graceful, satisfying, fun.

On a side note:  You may have heard that the police confiscated the diesel generator, but within two days we had several people-powered bicycle generators that passers-by could sign up to pedal.  So creative!  The lights and the computers are back on.

After last night's parade, it took awhile for Reinette and I to get out of the crowd and find a subway.  We finally got back to Brooklyn, tired but exhilarated.  She got up early this morning to catch her flight home, and I'll be leaving tomorrow.  I'm looking forward to being home, bringing back all I have learned and experienced.  

Our Moment is Now


It's Sunday now, just four days before I return home, and I'm considering again my reasons for being here at Occupy Wall Street in New York. Things are tough here. It's sunny today, but snow has turned to ice. People are resurrecting tents that have collapsed, hanging out wet sleeping bags, piling up plastic bags of wet clothes for the laundry service to take away, and sweeping up snow.

Now I'm sitting here comfortably in a coffee shop, listening to Neil Young (“Old man take a look at my life, I'm a lot like you”). I have a secure place to sleep, a metro pass, and money to buy whatever I food I need. When I get back to Nevada City I'll be returning to my comfortable home, loving husband, with my grown children and grandchildren nearby. Compared to many I live a privileged life. I have a home, an education, health insurance, and pension. But I'm seeing the bottom fall out from under so many, including people in my family, that I cannot just stand by silently and watch the social, economic, and environmental collapse that is underway.

I call on others who are comfortable, or who are not: find a way to lend your support to this movement for social change. It's easy to criticize, to judge, to dismiss. But please. What is your alternative? Join us. Put in your two cents, share your experience and learn from others who have had different experiences. Please don't let this opportunity pass you by.

Fortunately, after writing this “call” I was heartened to again attend Judson Memorial, where I found kindred spirit celebrating All Saints Day, remembering those who have gone before us into death. (I was missing my mom, while also feeling her presence.) There were prayers for the people at Zucotti Park—one member of the congregation was knitting scarves for them. The service included a sermon relating the Christian message to social and economic justice and a song by REM entitled “Occupy.”

In the afternoon an Interfaith group called Occupy Faith joined a march planned by historically black churches across the Brooklyn Bridge, on this 33rd anniversary of the Black United Front's March on Wall Street. I joined the procession as it got closer to the park. The energy was very high. People were carrying the Golden Calf (modeled after the Wall Street bull), chanting and singing. The march was followed by an Interfaith service made up of speakers from various faith communities, with hundreds of people singing songs and amplifying spoken words through the “human mic.” Inspiring.

I later went to the Atrium for a Teach-In on the banking system, given by a woman who had worked on Wall Street. She did a great job of explaining, in simple terms, derivatives and other complex financial instruments, as well as the system overall, how it works, and who it works for. I think we need Teach-Ins on “economic literacy” all over this country, so that we can better understand and speak coherently about what is going on.

The General Assembly met as usual at 7 pm, and dealt with issues through modified consensus, as always. This process can be contentions at times, and there are disruptions at every meeting, with various people, including passersby, challenging or trying to disrupt the process. People are drawn to this encampment for all kinds of reasons. Not all are here to bring about social change. The De-escalation and Security teams have their work cut out for them. They utilize various tactics to talk down or otherwise take the attention off the disruptors so the meeting can go on.

It is a real challenge to facilitate a group of hundreds under these circumstances, and to maintain a confident, friendly demeanor while keeping the meeting on track. I have gone to several facilitator trainings and have sat in on their working group meetings. I think it helps a lot to have group support, ongoing trainings, and a clear, consistent, and transparent process agreed to in advance by the whole General Assembly. I have seen facilitators handle chaotic situations very skillfully, surfing waves of disruption and discord that threaten to capsize the whole meeting. You can see these meetings, as well as the Spokes Council meetings that will be starting on Wednesday, every night at 7 at: http://www.livestream.com/occupynyc. You can find the guide with the hand signals that are used to communicate in meetings, at: http://www.nycga.net/resources/general-assembly-guide.

Actually, none of this is comfortable. People are standing or sitting on cold concrete, sometimes even in the rain. It can be exhausting—exhilarating, but exhausting. But the facilitators remind us, and we remind each other, that we are here to change the world, that this is a global nonviolent revolution, and that our moment is now.